Intellectual Property

Copyright FAQ

Q: Are copyrights transferable?

  • A:Yes. Like any other property, all or part of the rights in a work may be transferred by the owner to another.

Q: Can a minor claim a copyright?

  • A:Minors may claim a copyright, and the Copyright Office does issue registrations to minors, but state laws may regulate the business dealings involving copyrights owned by minors. For information on relevant state laws, consult an attorney.

Q: Can foreigners register their works in the U.S.?

  • A:Any work that is protected by U.S. copyright law can be registered. This includes many works of foreign origin. All works that are unpublished, regardless of the nationality of the author, are protected in the United States. Works that are first published in the United States or in a country with which we have a copyright treaty or that are created by a citizen or domiciliary of a country with which we have a copyright treaty are also protected and may therefore be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Q: Can I copyright the name of my band?

  • A:No. Names are not protected by copyright law. Some names may be protected under trademark law. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, (800) 786-9199, for further information.

Q: Can I submit a CD-ROM of my work?

  • A:Yes, you may. The deposit requirement consists of the best edition of the CD-ROM package of any work, including the accompanying operating software, instruction manual and a printed version, if included in the package.

Q: Can I submit my manuscript on a computer disk?

  • A:No. There are many different software formats and the Copyright Office does not have the equipment to accommodate all of them. Therefore, the Copyright Office still generally requires a printed copy or audio recording of the work for deposit.

Q: Could I be sued for using somebody else's work? How about quotes or samples?

  • A:If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.

Q: Do I have to register with the Copyright Office to be protected?

  • A:No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Q: Do I have to renew my copyright?

  • A:No. Works created on or after January 1, 1978 don't have to be renewed. As to works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years, but does provide certain legal advantages.

Q: Do I have to send in my work? Do I get it back?

  • A:Yes, you must send the required copy or copies of the work to be registered. These copies will not be returned. Upon their deposit in the Copyright Office, under sections 407 and 408 of the Copyright law, all copies, phonorecords, and identifying material, including those deposited in connection with claims that have been refused registration, are the property of the United States Government.

Q: Do I have to use my real name on the form? Can I use a stage name or a pen name?

  • A:There is no legal requirement that the author be identified by his or her real name on the application form.

Q: Does my work have to be published to be protected?

  • A:Publication is not necessary for copyright protection.

Q: How can I obtain copies of someone else's work and/or registration certificate?

  • A:The Copyright Office will not honor a request for a copy of someone else's work without written authorization from the owner or from his or her designated agent if that work is still under copyright protection, unless the work is involved in litigation. Written permission from the copyright owner or a litigation statement is required before copies can be made available. A certificate of registration for any registered work can be obtained for a fee.

Q: How do I collect royalties?

  • A:The collection of royalties is usually a matter of private arrangement between an author and publisher or other users of the author's work. The Copyright Office plays no role in the execution of contractual terms or business practices. There are copyright licensing organizations and publications rights clearinghouses that distribute royalties for their members.

Q: How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

  • A:Copyright doesn't protect names, titles, slogans or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office at (800) 786-9199 for further information. Copyright protection may be available for logo artwork that contains sufficient authorship. In some circumstances, an artistic logo may also be protected as a trademark.

Q: How do I get permission to use somebody else's work?

  • A:You can ask for it. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you aren't certain about the ownership or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the Copyright Office conduct a search of its records for an hourly fee.

Q: How do I protect my idea?

  • A:Copyright doesn't protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.

Q: How long does a copyright last?

  • A:The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, signed into law on October 27, 1998, amends the provisions concerning duration of copyright protection. Effective immediately, the terms of copyright are generally extended for an additional 20 years. Specific provisions are as follows:

    • For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection will endure for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. In the case of a joint work, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term will be 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first
    • For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, the term endures for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047
    • For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured

Q: How much do I have to change in my own work to make a new claim of copyright?

  • A:You may make a new claim in your work if the changes are substantial and creative -- something more than just editorial changes or minor changes. This would qualify as a new derivative work. For instance, simply making spelling corrections throughout a work does not warrant a new registration, but adding an additional chapter would.

Q: How much do I have to change in order to claim copyright in someone else's work?

  • A:Only the owner of copyright in a work has the right to prepare, or to authorize someone else to create, a new version of that work. Accordingly, you cannot claim copyright to another's work, no matter how much you change it, unless you have the owner's consent.

Q: How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

  • A:Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it's permissible to use limited portions of a work (including quotes) for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes or percentages of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances.

Q: Is my copyright good in other countries?

  • A:The United States has copyright relations with more than 100 countries throughout the world, and as a result of these agreements, we honor each other's citizens' copyrights. However, the United States does not have such copyright relationships with every country.

Q: Is there a list of songs or movies in the public domain?

  • A:No. But a search of copyright records may reveal whether a particular work has fallen into the public domain. The Copyright Office will conduct a search of their records by the title of a work, an author's name or a claimant's name. The search fee is $65 per hour. You may also search the records in person without paying a fee.

Q: Somebody infringed my copyright. What can I do?

  • A:A party may protect his or her copyrights against unauthorized use by filing a civil lawsuit in Federal district court. If you believe that your copyright has been infringed, consult an attorney. In cases of willful infringement for profit, the U.S. Attorney may initiate a criminal investigation.

Q: What does copyright protection mean?

  • A:Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Q: What is a copyright notice? How do I put a copyright notice on my work?

  • A:A copyright notice is an identifier placed on copies of the work to inform the world of copyright ownership. While use of a copyright notice was once required as a condition of copyright protection, it is now optional. Use of the notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

Q: What is a "work made for hire"?

  • A:Although the general rule is that the person who creates the work is its author, there is an exception to that principle. A "work made for hire" is a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment, or a work specially ordered or commissioned in certain specified circumstances. When a work qualifies as a work made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.

Q: What is "publication"?

  • A:"Publication" has a technical meaning in copyright law. According to the statute, "Publication is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication." Generally, publication occurs on the date on which copies of the work are first made available to the public.

Q: What is the difference between Form PA and Form SR?

  • A:These forms are for registering two different types of copyrightable subject matter that may be embodied in a recording. Form PA is used for the registration of music and/or lyrics (as well as other works of the performing arts), even if your song is on a cassette. Form SR is used for registering the performance and production of a particular recording of sounds.

Q: When is my work protected?

  • A:Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form so that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

Q: When will I get my certificate?

  • A:The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving. If your application is in order, you may generally expect to receive a certificate of registration within approximately four to five months of submitting the information .

Q: Where can I get application forms?

  • A:You may get forms from the U.S. Copyright Office in person, by mailing in a request, or by calling the 24-hours-per-day forms hotline: (202) 707-9100. Some public libraries may also carry these forms.

Q: Who is an author?

  • A:Under the copyright law, the creator of the original expression in a work is its author. The author is also the owner of copyright, unless there is a written agreement by which the author assigns the copyright to another person or entity, such as a publisher. In cases of works made for hire, the employer or commissioning party is considered to be the author.

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